June 23, 2015

What Doesn’t Matter: On Milan Kundera’s ‘The Festival of Insignificance’ 3


Kundera doesn’t deliver. Instead of exploring what brought these men together and makes their relationship work, he focuses instead on those relationships that hold no significance. In its own twisted logic, the novel asserts that the insignificant is actually significant and worthy of its own narrative.

June 16, 2015

May It Not Rest in Peace: On Máirtín Ó Cadhain’s ‘Cré na Cille’ 2


What if what awaits us after death is a continuation of the same petty dramas and sordid resentments? What if, after we’re lowered into our graves, we discover that all the other corpses in the cemetery are still chattering away in some kind of eternal bitchfest?

June 8, 2015

The Crime of Life: On Kamel Daoud’s ‘The Meursault Investigation’ 3


As in The Stranger, where no Arab is ever addressed by name, so too do Algerians of today operate nameless in the shadow of their rulers.

May 29, 2015

A Blacker Shade of Pale: On Mat Johnson’s ‘Loving Day’ 1


Loving Day is an entry in a small but vital subgenre: the Comic Mulatto Novel.

May 22, 2015

Off Leash: On André Alexis’s ‘Fifteen Dogs’ 1


Alexis’s conceit, in which dogs are caught between human and canine worlds, in a sense reflects their real-life predicament: dogs are creatures upon whom owners project distinctly human intelligence and emotions.

May 22, 2015

The Creative Chrysalis: On Neal Stephenson’s ‘Seveneves’ 10


A big heaping slab of idea-packed, throwback, hard sci-fi, Stephenson’s latest brick of a book is thought-provoking but staid; a sad turn for one of the sharpest, most irreverent minds in a genre still reinventing itself.

May 20, 2015

Beyond Rent Hikes: On DW Gibson’s ‘The Edge Becomes The Center’ 0


Gibson understands that a conversation about gentrification can be an opening to talk about everything from the nuts and bolts of tenant law, to the habits of graffiti artists, to the legacy of Jane Jacobs, to the future of the DiBlasio administration, to the popularity of Project Runway, to the basic human question of how to get along with other people.

May 15, 2015

The Corporate Drug Cartel: On Sam Quinones’s ‘Dreamland’ 5


Quinones adds layers of nauseating detail: the exorbitant bonuses for Purdue salespeople who peddled OxyContin to primary-care docs under-trained in treating chronic pain; the promotional videos that under-reported the pill’s addictive potential; the OxyContin-branded hats, toys, mugs, golf balls, CDs, pads, and pens that rained down on doctors.

May 13, 2015

Down in the Oedipal Mud: On Kent Russell’s ‘I Am Sorry to Think I Have Raised a Timid Son’ 13


Kent Russell, like John Jeremiah Sullivan, never adopts the let’s-laugh-at-the-Clampetts pose common to inferior writers of inferior non-fiction.

May 12, 2015

The Technological Panopticon: On Catie Disabato’s ‘The Ghost Network’ 0


The danger isn’t knowledge, but rather the loss of privacy; a panopticon is damaging precisely because constant observation erodes a subject’s will to resist. Without privacy, we become conformists, our own jailers.